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Route to success: How we opened up in Sydney

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In the first of a three-part series on medium-sized UK practices working abroad, Drew Hamilton explains pH+ Architects’ 10,000-mile journey to Australia

Having spent a decade refining our approach to delivering high-quality residential projects in London, in 2014 we established a second studio in Sydney to oversee the delivery of our first residential project in Australia. This presented an opportunity to extend the practice’s experience overseas. Although the cities are 10,000 miles apart, they have many similarities, particularly with regards to the broader issue of housing. Both have seen steeply rising property prices, fuelled largely by demand for housing greatly outstripping supply, a factor that shows no sign of abating, with both conurbations anticipating significant future population growth.

It is this future growth in Sydney, but more specifically the state government’s plans to move away from the sprawling, car-based, suburban model towards a more compact, higher-density and well-connected city, that correlates with our own work in London over the past decade. This has focused on medium-density brownfield development in urban areas. Essentially we saw an opportunity to reinterpret and expand lessons learnt in London to meet similar challenges within a ‘new’ urban context.

We took advantage of the time difference, with staff cross-working on projects between the two offices

Coming to a new city, indeed a new continent, has been both challenging and exhilarating. We have had to develop an entire new set of professional relationships, a process that has been greatly assisted by existing key relationships with a client and consultants who also operate in both cities. This was particularly relevant at the outset in terms of acquiring office space (we share with a pre-existing contact from London) and obtaining recommendations for a good migration agent who ensured we would meet legal requirements to allow us to operate in Australia, and ensure that we have the flexibility to employ local architects or bring further staff over from the UK. At this stage we are taking advantage of the time difference, with staff in London (who have worked previously in Sydney) cross-working on projects between the two offices.

With construction of our initial residential project on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Catalina Crescent, nearing completion, we have further residential projects in the pipeline. In addition, we’ve been working on a 1,500m² commercial/retail development and several larger mixed-use projects. We’ve also been asked to design a pop-up retail outlet.

We are relishing the opportunity to practice in a different culture, context, and climate, and look forward to learning from, and contributing to both cites as they adopt creative approaches to addressing their respective housing needs.

If you’re planning a similar move, be prepared to invest time in cultivating relationships and building networks: a mid to long-term outlook is definitely required. The process we’ve been through has been challenging, but has been made easier by a genuine interest on the part of clients, consultants and other architects here in Sydney, in sharing experiences between the two cities. 

Drew Hamilton is co-founder and director of pH+ Architects 

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